The new musical, originally inspired by the children's series "Thomas the Tank Engine," shared several top members of the Les Misérables creative team, including director Trevor Nunn, set designer John Napier and lighting designer David Hersey.
Following a series of delays due to technical challenges and its busy creative team, the most expensive Broadway production of the time made its American premiere. The cast included Andrea McArdle, 18-year-old Jane Krakowski in her Broadway debut, and a pre-recorded Braden Danner, who appeared live up the street as Broadway's original Gavroche.
New York Times reviewer Frank Rich deemed it "a confusing jamboree of piercing noise, routine roller-skating, misogyny and Orwellian special effects." New York Magazine's John Simon wrote, "It belongs in a sports arena, exhibition hall, or oversize discotheque; all it can do in a theater is cheapen it."
Despite its scathing notices, Starlight Express went on to play a two-year run, and in the final days of 1988 it set a record for the then-highest-grossing week in Broadway history: $617,022.